Thursday, February 23, 2017

Alabama: The Heart of Dixie

Welcome Sign, Interstate 59, Georgia/Alabama Line
September 2nd, 2012

To date, I’ve been to Alabama twice.  First time was back in 1999, when I attended a three-day conference in Birmingham with New Image, International.  The Conference was held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, an easy walk from our hotel which was located right in the heart of the city, and only a few blocks from the Amtrak station where I arrived on the Southern Crescent from New Orleans.  It was an easy walk until the police closed off the street that connected hotel and convention center, which they did because the Ku Klux Klan was having a major demonstration half-way between the two venues in “honor” of the Martin Luther King holiday.  1999 was seven years before I got a decent digital camera, and while I know I have photographs from that trip, at present I’m having trouble locating either the prints or the negatives to scan.  Oh well, you’ll just have to imagine what that trip was like from my words.

Inside our Cabin at Bluff Creek Falls
Steele, Alabama
September 3rd, 2012

Riding the Southern Crescent, we pulled out of New Orleans, crossed into Mississippi shortly thereafter, and crossed that state in a diagonal line from Southwest to Northeast, a trip I’ll discuss in my post about Mississippi.  The Crescent runs between New York City and New Orleans, and the Amtrak guide assumes that you will be heading south and gives all the miles as distance from New York’s Penn Station, the busiest rail station in the country.  The total travel distance is 1,377 miles, and you cross the Alabama/Mississippi state line at mile 1,155, or 222 miles from N’Awlins.  Once you cross into Alabama, the rail line runs roughly parallel to and south of Interstate 20.  You pass through the towns of Livingston and Eutaw, cross the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, and stop in Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide and all things University of Alabama.  After several hours and 354 miles, you arrive in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city located toward the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, and therefore quite hilly.   I have to admit that I have no memory of the Alabama portion of the trip, at least not until I stepped off the train at the Birmingham Station, which struck me as old, pretty small for a big city train station, and located in a not very interesting neighborhood.  For those who don’t know the city, as well as being the largest in Alabama, it is the 103rd largest city in the U.S., with a 2010 Census count of 212,237, down from 242,840 in 2000, one year after I visited.  In fact, the population of the city has declined in every census since 1960 when the count was 340,887, the highest ever for the city.  In other words, over the past fifty years, the city has lost a third of its population, although the 2015 estimate showed a minimal increase from 2010. 

Parked Outside our Cabin at Bluff Creek Falls
Steele, Alabama
September 3rd, 2012

This decrease became apparent my first evening in town.  Despite being in the center of an apparently prosperous downtown, judging solely by the new skyscrapers that surrounded our hotel, there were no restaurants open after 5 p.m., and no retail businesses to speak of any where we looked.  Oh there were lots of empty storefronts on streets nearby, but most looked as if they had been closed for years, or even decades.  A local explained to me that downtown historically was the Negro section of town, and with increased prosperity and desegregation, the Blacks had moved to the suburbs and no one had taken their place.  It gave downtown Birmingham a distinct ghost town feel, especially after the skyscrapers emptied of their white-collar workers.  Missoula friends attending the same conference, had a rental car, so we were able to get out of downtown and see a bit of the city, albeit by night, including the section called Five Points South where we found restaurants and the hill on top of which Vulcan, the largest cast-iron statue in the world, looks over the city and moons the suburbs.  (Well at least in 1999, when I saw the statue.  At that time, Vulcan wore an apron which protected his family jewels from the heat of the forge, but his apron was open at the back, and his cheeks were quite visible should you approach him from the rear.  I understand the statue has been completely renovated since then, so I cannot say what he is showing the world today.) 

The Pool Area at Bluff Creek Falls
Steele, Alabama
September 3rd, 2012

I never saw the hooded Knights as the police diverted all traffic away from the area, but I remember the next day walking a couple of blocks from our hotel to visit a park dedicated to the Civil Rights struggle.  Unfortunately, while I know I took photographs on this trip, including several from the train and in Birmingham itself, I cannot find those images.  Nor do I have any memory of returning to the Amtrak station, boarding the train or the return trip to New Orleans.

Yes, George Wallace's wife has a street named for her
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
September 3rd, 2012

My second trip across Alabama was in September, 2012, when Kevin and I drove from Columbus, Ohio to Starkville, Mississippi, and spent a night outside of Steele, Alabama en route.  On this trip, we entered Alabama from Georgia on Interstate 59, capturing the Welcome sign shown at the head of this post.  We stopped for supper in Gadsden, then proceeded on to Steele where we stayed in a cabin at Bluff Creek Falls.  We had been driving through torrential rains as we skirted the path of Hurricane Isaac, and the grounds at Bluff Creek were drenched.  As a result, we spent no time in what looked to be a lovely pool, were the weather better, but the friendliness and hospitality of the hosts and campers were unmatched and we had a very pleasant evening there, albeit inside.

US Highway 82, Western Alabama
September 3rd, 2012

The next morning, we reloaded the Saab and headed on through Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, where Kevin had his very first Waffle House experience and got a Waffle House cap for being a “virgin,” and then on across western Alabama on U.S. 82, crossing into Mississippi just east of the town of Columbus.  All of the pictures accompanying this post are from the 2012 drive.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Wherever you go, there you are

I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately.  Drove to Butte and Bozeman then back home a couple of weeks ago.  Last week, I drove to Republic, Washington and back, then yesterday to Colfax, Washington and back.  And this morning I meditated over my morning coffee on the deck that it is surely true that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.  My dad was a destination driver.  Every year we’d load up the car and drive to the cabin in the Bitterroot mountains west of Stevensville.  Roughly 900 miles one way, and we’d stop only for gas, quick meals (get your potty breaks at one or the other), and maybe 3 to 5 hours in a motel in Winnemucca.  Once I started driving, the motel stops were a thing of the past.  He’d often comment (like every time we drove Highway 12 up the Idaho side of Lolo Pass), “One of these days, I’m going to fish that stream” referring to the Lochsa River.  He died without ever stopping to fish the Lochsa. 

Along U.S. Highway 12
Taken 4/21/16

I used to be a destination driver,too.  Guess that’s one thing I got from my dad.  But yesterday’s journey through the Palouse opened my eyes.  You see, if you’re a destination driver, the roads through the Palouse seem endless and boring.  Up one hill, down the next, through a valley that seems more like a canyon, then rinse and repeat.  Over and over, world without end, until you finally arrive at your destination.  I’ve done that a lot in the past, driving to Moscow or Pullman for meetings or to visit friends.  Driving to Walla Walla and beyond on my way to or from a visit to Mother.  And heaven help you if you’re driving from Pullman to Connell, a distance of 98 miles along Washington Route 26 that Mapquest says will take you 1 hour and 43 minutes, but will feel like it’s taking f*o*r*e*v*e*r because there’s no change in the scenery as you cross the Palouse.  OK, let’s be honest.  There’s no change if all you’re looking at is the road.  The hills, valleys, fields and farms tend to look alike when you’re seeing them out the corner of your eye.

(The attendant at the convenience store next door suggested that the "130 year old men" said it was a transfer station, from the time the railroad passed through the valley.  Works for me.)
Rockford, Washington

Yesterday’s drive was different.  I was out specifically to see what I could find of interest in Whitman County, Washington.  Along the way I found a strange building made of brick on the south side of Rockford, Washington, a round barn with a very ornate roof on the west side of St. John.  I drove across an almost dry, stone sided canyon west of Pine City called, appropriately enough “Hole in the Ground.”  I found an abandoned church in the ghost town of Elberton, northeast of Colfax.  I saw Steptoe Butte from the north, the east, and the west, and found a chandelier hanging from the branches of a tree in front of the Latah Schoolhouse, now available for weddings and receptions, don’t ya know, in Latah, the Centennial City, Washington.

Between St. John and Cheney, Washington
(The mystery here is the number of pickups with boat trailers parked alongside the dirt road.  I didn't see any water deep enough or wide enough to accommodate the boats.)

I got a lot of good photographs too, (and more than a few duds).  But most of all, I got an appreciation for the beauty of the land, the infinitely varied landscape of farm, field, mountain, valley—even if I still think the valleys are more like canyons.  

Colfax, Washington

Oakesdale, Washington

Saturday, March 19, 2016

There is no 420 in Idaho

Mile Marker on U.S. Highway 95
Kootenai County, Idaho
Taken 3/18/16

Friday, March 18th, the sun rose in a clear blue sky and I said it was a good day for photography.  Since I finished my words and pictures for the Montana coffee table book (all that remains is putting it all together in a single volume), I’ve been wondering what to do for an encore.  I thoroughly enjoyed traveling Montana and getting to know my home state so much better, up close and personal, as it were, so I decided to continue the same, but with the neighboring state of Idaho, it being closest to home.  I’ve been working on this new project for a few months now, but earlier this week I decided to get it put together in hard form, i.e. photographic prints and printed text, because frankly I don’t trust my computer.  I do keep backing stuff up, but I don’t want to find myself in a position where all my hard work is just gone—lost in cyberspace somewhere.  Having started that project, I figured it would be a good idea to keep some sort of record as to what was done and what wasn’t, and since I’m doing a county-by-county project, what better way to graphically illustrate what’s done and what remains to do than by taking a map of Idaho with all the counties shown and color coding it.  Red would mean that I have written the text and taken the pictures for county x.  Blue would mean that I have the pictures, but have yet to write the text, and gray would mean that I have the text finished, but have yet to visit the county in person and take the pictures.  When I finished coloring the map, I noticed that northern Idaho, from the Canadian border to the southern end of the Panhandle (more or less, depending on where you figure the Panhandle meets the pan, as it were) was solid blue with two exceptions.  Boundary County, the northern most county in the state, was red.  I have taken the photos and written the text.  Idaho County, which I consider the southern end was blue with a –CH notation.   I have lots of photos I’ve taken all around Idaho County, but for some inexplicable reason, I don’t have a photo of the County Court House.  And Lemhi County (not technically in the Panhandle) was colored blue with a -1P note:  I have lots of photos of Lemhi County, but there’s one in particular I want and don’t have—at least among the photos I can find.  South of Idaho County, the map has five counties colored gray, and the rest is a mass of white.  Yes, I learned a lesson traveling to the far eastern regions of Montana before doing my homework.  For Idaho, I decided I would write the essays and then take the photos, at least for those counties I can’t easily reach in a day trip.  If I hadn’t already researched Ada County, for instance, I wouldn’t know that I want to visit in May because that’s when North America’s largest nesting group of raptors visits the wildlife sanctuary south of Boise.  See what kinds of skills you can get from getting a graduate degree from the university! 

Work done to date on my Idaho Counties Photobook
As of 3/17/16

Anyway, there is just one problem with all the above.  There was one white county in the Panhandle: Nez Perce County with its County Seat of Lewiston.  Technically speaking, anywhere in that region could be considered a day trip from here at home in Wild Horse Plains, Montana, so I loaded all my camera gear into the new Explorer and headed out.  This was the first time I had driven more than a few miles—i.e. to town and back—since my accident where I totaled the Saab, and I was both eager and a bit nervous to see if I could handle what used to be normal for me.  By the time I had the car loaded and stopped in town to fill the gas tank, it was much later in the day than I would have liked, but Idaho is in a different time zone—at least the Panhandle is—so I could always claim I was gaining an hour.  (We’ll leave crossing that same time change on the way back for later, ok?) 

From home, I drove east on MT 200 to MT 135, which the Nav system in the Explorer informed me, is called Quinn’s Canyon Road.  I’ve lived here over three years, and have lived in western Montana for over 40 and have never heard of Quinn’s Canyon Road before, but what the hey.  Southwest on 135 to St Regis, then onto I-90 to head west into Idaho and Pacific Standard Time.  I crossed Lookout Pass and the state line at 11:07 and by 10:10 my clock had registered the fact that I was no longer in the Mountain Time Zone.  I stopped in Coeur d’Alene long enough to pick up a new charger for my phone, then headed south on US 95.   US 95 is the longest highway in the state of Idaho.  It crosses into the state’s southwestern most county, Owyhee, and heads north, clinging to the state line for the most part, until it leaves Idaho and the U.S. at the Eastport border crossing, over 538 miles to the north.  Where I joined the road, there was still another 100+ miles of 95 north of me, but I was heading south and the mile markers were decreasing in size.  425, 424, 423, 422, 421, 419.9, 419.  Wait a minute?  What was that?  I had read that Idaho had a terrible time with theft of one particular highway sign, and this was the way they dealt with the problem.  I had to make a U-turn and go back to photograph that mile marker. 

My new travel companion
2012 Ford Explorer Limited
Parked at home

Now I live in Montana, as my readers all know, and Montana has, since 2004, allowed personal use of marijuana for medical reasons.  We won’t go into all the shenanigans our state legislature has played with what has been a very popular law, but suffice it say that under certain circumstances you can get the state’s permission to grow and use cannabis for your health.  Washington State and now Oregon have both legalized all use of marijuana.  Sandwiched in between is Idaho which has steadfastly refused to give up the federal war on drugs, no matter how ineffective that may be.  So while you can legally purchase pot in a store in Spokane, 20 miles west of the Idaho state line, or grow your own in Montana, in Idaho you face prison time for having a joint in your possession.  Even so, I thought it a bit much to remove the 420 sign from the highway, and US 95 is the only highway in Idaho long enough to have a 420 sign.  (For my extremely sheltered readers, 420 is a slang term for marijuana, and if you google 420, you’ll find out all sorts of things you never needed to know—including the fact that Idaho is not alone in changing mile markers with this designation.)

I’ve reached the end of my allotted space for today’s blog, so next time I’ll talk about the rest of the trip—including how I changed my map of Nez Perce County from white to red.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Подмосковные вечера

Не слышны в саду даже шорохи,
Всё здесь замерло до утра.
Eсли б знали вы, как мне дороги
Подмосковные вечера.

In the garden, not a sigh is heard
All is gently stilled 'till the dawn
If you only knew what they mean to me,
These peaceful Moscow nights
  -- Mikhail Matusovsky, translated by blokh

For a beautiful version of the song, Moscow Nights, sung in Russian, but with an English translation on the screen, click here.  Or to hear the song the way it was introduced to American audiences at the height of the Cold War in 1962, here's the Chad Mitchell Trio's version.  Awfully gutsy of them to sing it in Russian, don't you think?  But the trio started out as a group of singers from Gonzaga University, and Spokane isn't all that far from Moscow, after all.

Sunday morning, November 15th, I got out of bed with Kevin saying, "If you're going with me, you'd better hurry up."  He wouldn't say where he was going, but I'm not one to turn down a road trip, and in this case, I suggested a few places I'd like to see, including the east side of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the town of Moscow in neighboring Idaho.  Knowing that when Kevin makes up his mind to hit the road, there's no time to lose, I forewent my morning coffee and breakfast, showered, dressed, and grabbed my camera and Idaho highway atlas, and jumped in the passenger seat of Kevin's truck.

Now don't get the idea that I did without breakfast.  I knew that Kevin would be stopping at the Conoco station in town, and that's the best place to get breakfast on a Sunday morning in Plains, Montana.  So, after eggs, hashbrowns, sausage and coffee, we headed out for Paradise, St. Regis, and Interstate 90 heading west.  The weather was warm, for mid November, and Lookout Pass was clear.  We turned off I-90 at Idaho exit 22, turning south on Idaho Highway 97 to follow along the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene.    This is not a speed way.  There are places where the suggested speed was 20 mph and Kevin said that was too fast for his F350.  He remarked repeatedly that the highway department must hate plowing this road.  We could catch glimpses of the lake, and the occasional marina, but no good photo ops presented themselves (partly because of the overcast sky and dull light), with one exception.  We passed one turn out where I could not only see the lake below clearly, but even saw a speedboat leaving an "s"-shaped wake behind it.  A perfect photo, missed.  That was the one that got away.

The Harrison Community Baptist Church
Harrison, Idaho

Near the southern end of the lake sits the town of Harrison.  With a population of 203, it was one of the larger towns we drove through.  Well, actually we stopped.  Kevin wanted to pick up some snacks at the Trading Post and I took advantage of the delay to snap some photos, including the church shown above.  It was Sunday, after all.

South of Harrison, Idaho 97 merged with Idaho 3, the road I had taken a couple of weeks earlier, and we drove on into, and ultimately through St. Maries.  There were some pictures I wanted from that town, things I had seen on my earlier trip, but not photographed, so we took the time to visit the town's rail yard.  Last trip I had seen a locomotive and a caboose bearing the name of the St. Maries River Railroad, a name I had not heard before.  We were able to find the caboose easily enough, but the locomotive eluded us.  I can't believe it had been moved as none of the rolling stock we saw appeared to have budged even an inch in the last twenty years.  But while on the prowl, we stopped long enough for me to photograph the station.  Originally built in 1908 by the Milwaukee Road, the station apparently was a great disappointment to the people of St. Maries.  If you look at the stations the Milwaukee has left in places like Missoula, Butte, and Great Falls, Montana, you will find beautiful buildings, easily among the most visually interesting pieces of architecture in those cities.  This is, I gather, what the locals expected in St. Maries.  You can see below what they got, but hey, the building was built in 1908, and the 1910 census counted 869 people in St. Maries.  Talk about Great Expectations!

The St. Maries River Railroad Station
(Formerly the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Station)
St. Maries, Idaho

Leaving St. Maries, we continued south on Idaho Highway 3, passing through Santa and Fernwood, as I had two weeks previously, but then we crossed back into Shoshone County, passing the town of Clarkia, the south-western most town in the county.  Boy do these folks have a long way to drive to get to their county seat--and they have to pass through two other counties before getting there.

A few miles further south, we crossed into Latah County, heading toward the town of Bovill and Idaho Highway 8 which would take us into Moscow.  About the time we crossed the line, Kevin noted that he was hungry.  By our watches it was almost 1:30 and breakfast had been several hours earlier.  I said I didn't know whether we'd find any place to eat in the few small towns ahead of us, but Kevin was willing to wait for Moscow.  Bovill, population 260, was founded by an Englishman named Hugh Bovill, who started ranching, then built a hotel with a store and post office.  As the town grew, according to Wikipedia, it became too wild for Hugh who took his wife and daughters to more civilized climes.  There is a building in Bovill on the National Historic Register, but I didn't see it.  I did see the building below, which I thought was a church, until I read the sign in front of the structure.  Back at home, with the internet at my disposal, I learned that the White Family Heritage Library was originally St. Joseph's Catholic Church, but the building was purchased and refurbished through gifts, largely from the family of Grace White Ryan who had grown up in Bovill.  The name on the sign made me think this might be a genealogical library, but according to the web, it is actually the Bovill branch of the Latah County Library District.

The Bovill Branch Library
Formerly St. Joseph's Catholic Church
Bovill, Idaho

Halfway between Bovill and Moscow, we passed through the town of Troy.  On the west side of town, up a steep hill from the highway, we saw a huge building that looked abandoned.  I had Kevin drive around the building, and I feel I can be excused for thinking at first that this was some sort of Roman Catholic institution.  Crosses in the United Methodist Church generally have three letters inscribed on them  "IHS," which we are taught stands for "In His Service," but actually is a stylized way of putting Jesus on the cross--a crucifix as it were, without the naked body.  And the I is often larger than the H and S, and placed between them, HIS.  Next to the ornate, two story brick building seen below was a greenish quonset hut shaped building with a monogram on the end.  HTS  It finally hit me that I was looking at a capital T, not a cross or the I of my youth, but rather the monogram of Troy High School.  And sure enough, this morning I called the Troy School District and learned that the building below was the former Junior/Senior High School, replace by a new structure in 2003.  I was also informed that the building is now owned by a private party.  Whether that party has plans for the structure, I have no idea.  With a total school population of 262 (including elementary, junior and senior high students), it's hard for to imagine how children ever filled this institution.

The Former Junior/Senior High School
Troy, Idaho

Ten miles west of Troy lies the city of Moscow, home of the University of Idaho.  Established as the territory's land-grant college in 1899 (Idaho became a state in 1890), the school has grown into a prestigious institution of higher education.  With nearly 12,000 students, the school is smaller than its cross state rivals Boise State and Idaho State (22,000 and 15,000 students respectively), but the faculty and students have an advantage in Washington State University, less than 10 miles away in Pullman, Washington.  The question that Kevin and I both had, and for which I have so far been unable to find a truly satisfactory answer, is why Moscow?  According to Wikipedia (and we all know that we can trust everything we read in that cyberpublication, right?) Moscow was chosen as home to the new institution as a sop to northern Idaho residents when Washington statehood approached in 1889.  Feeling closer to Washington than to Boise, residents of the northern panhandle tried to break off from Idaho territory and join with Washington.  "Here, if you stay with us, you can have a University," I hear the politicians saying.  And why Moscow?  Because, again according to Wikipedia, it was the second largest community in the territory at the time.  I have no way of corroborating this as the 1890 census figures for Moscow are missing.  By 1900, Moscow was, indeed, the second largest community in the new state, with just a few more residents than Lewiston, and half the population of Boise, but in 1880, Moscow counted 97 residents.  It must have grown a lot if it was second to Boise by 1889.

Be that as it may, by the time we reached Moscow, we were both hungry.  My main reason for coming to town was to take a photo of the Latah County Courthouse, but we were both so hungry that we decided to have lunch (at 2:30 local time) before seeking out the local administrative building.  Yelp suggested that most restaurants were on South Main, and I learned what a poor navigator I was in that I kept telling Kevin where I felt we needed to go, but he chose other routes.  Eventually we ended up on South Main and parked outside one of the places written up on Yelp, Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana.  Pizza's a safe choice, right?  Well, the three sheets of menu that we were given listed several offerings, none of which came at all close to Kevin's choice of meat lovers.  After consulting with our waitress, we decided to leave Maialina in search of something Kevin could eat.  Walking up one side of South Main, and back down the other, we ended up at La Casa Lopez where I had perhaps the best mole poblano I've eaten.  Unfortunately, Kevin ordered a burger which left a lot to be desired.  But then, who orders a burger in a Mexican restaurant?

By the time we finished lunch, it was getting dark.  Yes, we're moving toward winter.  Dusk at 3:30?  So be it.  We found the court house and I took my pictures.  There are many beautiful buildings in Moscow, Idaho, maybe not as colorful as St. Basil's Cathedral in that other Moscow, but still gorgeous examples of architecture.  Unfortunately, the Latah County Court House is not one of them.

We left town on US 95 heading north, then east on I-90 from Coeur d'Alene.  All told I took 65 photographs in the course of the day.  We got home around 8:30, roughly eleven hours after we left.  I didn't keep track of the miles we added to Kevin's odometer.   Because I've posted so many landscapes, I felt it best to concentrate on some of the interesting architecture we saw on this drive.  Stay tuned for more adventures on the road and off.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Donkey Riding

Willamette Steam Donkey Engine
John Mullan Park
St. Maries, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Were you ever off the Horn
Where it's always nice and warm
Seeing the lion and the unicorn
Riding on a donkey

This version of the song comes close to the way I learned the song a million years ago.

The line separating the states of Idaho and Montana starts at the Canadian Border just west of 116 degrees west longitude, proceeds approximately 72 miles due south, to just south of the Clark Fork River, then follows the Bitterroot Mountains ridge line for the next 355 miles and the Continental Divide for the remaining 312 miles (totaling 739 miles).  Seven main highways cross this arbitrary line, from U.S. Highway 2 in the north to U.S. Highway 20 in the south.  All but two of these roads cross high mountain passes.  In addition there are seemingly countless minor roads crossing the line, including both of the passes I drove across yesterday (11/3/15).  Most of these minor roads are back country dirt roads, most likely put in by logging companies over the years.   Both of the roads I took yesterday were paved, at least in part.  Thompson Pass, southwest of Thompson Falls, was, for years, paved on the Montana side, but not on the Idaho side.  The second pass, which I'll call the Little Joe Pass (I'm sure it has a name, but it's not marked at the site, nor on any maps that I have readily available), is paved beautifully on the Idaho side, but most of the 17 miles on the Montana side is dirt/gravel, although exceptionally well packed down.

Leaving home around 9:30, a bit later than I would have liked, I set the car's navigation system to find the Benewah County (Idaho) Garage, one of three choices the car gave me for Benewah County.  Apparently, there are more than one such garages, because while I was trying to get to St. Maries, when I drove into that town, the navigation system told me I had many more miles to go before I reached the garage.  This was not the only time the nav system failed me.  Undoubtedly because most people prefer driving on the Interstate Highway System, the car tried to guide me east to Paradise, then south to St. Regis and Interstate 90.  This was not the way I had planned, so instead I headed west to Thompson Falls, then south and west across Thompson Pass and into Idaho.  I drove a good five miles west on Highway 200 before the car relented and routed me through Thompson Falls.  But even then, half-way up Prospect Creek, the car tried to get me to turn left and take a very rough dirt road up and over the mountains into Wallace, Idaho, instead of staying on the paved road I had chosen.  Twice more along the way, the car tried to get me into Wallace, when I was headed instead for Kingston, Idaho where I would finally meet up with the Interstate.  Now I know that Wallace is "The Center of the Universe" and at least until the 1980s the home of a well-known bordello, but I had no need to visit either on this trip, so I continually ignored the car's suggestions and followed the Coeur d'Alene River to Kingston, whence I hit I-90 and headed west into Kootenai County and the exit for Idaho Highway 3.

The impetus for this trip was to visit Benewah County, the county in North Idaho I knew the least.  In point of fact, while I had driven across the county twice (once north to south and once south to north on different highways), I had never actually stopped and gotten out of the car in that jurisdiction.  I also hoped to drive home along the St. Joe River, and I had no idea how long any of this would take, so I set my sights on the Benewah County line and didn't stop anywhere along the Coeur d'Alene, beautiful in its fall coloring, to take pictures.  Once off I-90, however, I stopped to study (and photograph) the information sign for the White Pine Scenic Byway, AKA Idaho Highways 3 and 6, which I would be driving for the next several hours.

I seem to have caught their attention
Rose Lake Elk Ranch
Rose Lake, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Almost immediately after getting back on Highway 3, I passed a field filled with elk.  I did not realize, at the time, that this was a commercial elk ranch.  Indeed, the elk filled the fields the way cattle normally do, and apparently that is intentional.  While I do not approve of the commercial raising of these majestic animals, you can read more about the ranch on their web site.

A few miles further south, I pulled into a marked Scenic Turnout and admired (and photographed) the scene to the west, including what looked to be several miles of horse fencing (are we suddenly in Kentucky?), much grassland, water and mountains on the western horizon.

Kootenai County Ranch Land
Eastern Kootenai County, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Back on Highway 3, I first entered the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, then Benewah County.  As is the case for so many native reservations, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's land is now only a fraction of their aboriginal claims, and is located in southern Kootenai and western Benewah Counties.  Roughly half of Benewah County is within the reservation, but only 9% of the County's population claims to be Native.  The town of Plummer is the home of the tribal headquarters.  The tribe also operates a casino at Worley, north of Plummer in Kootenai County.  In 1991, the tribe sued the State of Idaho over ownership of Lake Coeur d'Alene, a trial that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which dismissed the suit citing the Eleventh Amendment.  A subsequent suit against the state was initiated by the U.S. government, acting as trustee of Indian lands.  This time, the Supreme Court ruled against the state of Idaho.  While at the time, there was much controversy and, yes, fear, as to what the ruling would mean, in practice what has happened is that the Tribe has been instrumental in cleaning up the lake and the area rivers of mining waste from the Silver Valley.

After stopping for lunch in St. Maries, where I duly photographed the County Court House, I headed west on Idaho Highway 5 to Plummer, passing through Heyburn State Park, ostensibly the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest.  Land taken, need I say, from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.  There were a good many turnouts on the seventeen mile drive where I could stop and admire the scenery, but my photographs are all hampered by the trees that line the highway.  Or, I suppose you could say, the pictures are enhanced by the trees.

The Saint Joe River connecting Chatcolet Lake and Round Lake
Heyburn State Park, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Once in Plummer, I headed south on U.S. Highway 95, which runs parallel to the Idaho/Washington State Line, passing by the town of Sanders (2 miles off the highway to the east), and through the town of Tensed.  I didn't have a chance (or didn't take the time) to ask a native if the town's name is one syllable or two.  South of Tensed, I passed De Smet, site of the Jesuit mission built after the Tribe left the area around Cataldo, where the same Jesuits who built St. Mary's and St. Ignatius Missions in Montana built the first mission in what is now Idaho.  (According to Wikipedia, Tensed started out as De Smet, but because of the nearby mission, which had its own post office, the town changed its name to Temsed--De Smet backwards--which the Post Office then mispelled.)  To the west, along the Washington State line, is Mary Minerva McCroskey State Park, Idaho's second largest.  This large section of Palouse was acquired and set aside by one man, Virgil T. McCroskey, who gave the land to the State of Idaho in 1955.  The State, however, chose to look this gift horse in the mouth, figuring that no one in his right mind would want to travel to remote northern Idaho (it was another twenty years before the state improved U.S. 95 to the point where it wasn't such a challenge to reach the area from the more populous southern part of the state).  Accordingly, the State accepted the gift only with the provision that Mr. McCroskey would single-handedly maintain the property, at his own expense, for the next fifteen years.  McCroskey, then 78 years old, agreed, and fulfilled his commitment, dying just weeks after the fifteen year period had passed.

Shortly after passing the road leading to McCroskey State Park, I passed three signs mounted on a single post.  The first announced that I was now leaving the Coeur d'Alene Reservation.  Below that was the sign saying that I was now entering Latah County, and below that, a sign warning that "Zoned County Bldg. Permits" were required, presumably in Latah County.  Not planning on doing any construction, I ignored this last notice, and continued south to the town of Potlatch, a company town built by Weyerhauser's Potlatch Lumber Company in 1905.  At its heyday, the mill at Potlatch was the largest white pine lumber mill in the world.  I photographed a couple of large buildings, one of which I have not been able to identify, the second of which has a sign out front stating that the building is the Town Hall for the city.  I also photographed the station for the Washington, Idaho and Montana Railway, a rail line that despite its name, apparently never reached Montana.

Everything an Ivy-League Man Needs
Princeton, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

Today, Potlatch is mostly a bedroom community for nearby Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington, homes respectively of The University of Idaho and Washington State University.  When the town, and more importantly the railroad, was first built, the nearby stations were given the names of Ivy League Colleges, and shortly after turning north on Idaho Highway 6, I passed through Princeton, and five miles later, Harvard.  I'm not sure where Yale, Cornell and Purdue are (or more likely, were).  North of Harvard, I re-entered Benewah County, passing through the town of Emida, past another sign pointing, this time westward, to Sanders, and took a side trip to Santa and Fernwood.  Not seeing Mary Hartman, and not wanting to wait around for the talk show, I turned around short of the Shoshone County line, and headed back to St. Maries.  From there, I turned east onto Idaho 50, and followed the St. Joe River through a spectacular mountain valley, until the road turned north and climbed the Bitterroot Mountains, crossing into Montana 88 miles east of St. Maries.  At the pass, as noted above, the pavement ended, and most of the next seventeen miles were on hard packed dirt.  The best photo I didn't get was of the animal leading me down the mountain for quite a way.  He was easily taller than my car, and sported a very respectable rack of antlers.  I had no intention of scaring him (or more likely angering him), so I slowed down and followed at a respectful distance until he found a place to leave the roadbed.  It was too dark by this time to get a good look, let alone a photograph, and I can't say for sure, but there's only one animal that large in this part of the world.  Had to be a bull moose.  Need I say that my nav system did not like this route at all, and refused to give me an accurate reading of how much further I had to go--since I wasn't following the prescribed route.

But I was able to get some spectacular photos along the St. Joe, including the scene below which I captured shortly after crossing from Benewah into Shoshone County,   Coming round a bend, I saw ahead a blaze of color coming down out of a very cloudy sky.  I stopped to grab that partial rainbow, and a few miles later, stopped again to get this image of a double rainbow, almost complete.  I guess there's double the luck there.

Double the Luck
Southwestern Shoshone County, Idaho
November 3rd, 2015

I arrived home at 7 p.m., almost ten hours after leaving.  I drove approximately 400 miles, and shot 78 photographs.  I saw a lot of beautiful country, most of it new to me, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The one thing I didn't do, was stop to hunt for geocaches.  I can eat up a lot of time doing that, and it was important to me that this be a day-trip only, not a several day trip.  This is something, as my readers know, I dearly love.  I need to find a way to afford more of these trips.

Friday, September 4, 2015

September Song

Sunflower on black
The Summer of 2015 is almost gone, just another 15 days or so until the Fall Equinox and I feel as if I've lost the whole season. For most of the Summer, I've been off my feet, reclining in my Barcalounger, hoping against hope to keep all my toes intact. Alas, it was not to be, and eventually I agreed to the inevitable and had the middle toe of my left foot amputated.  That seems to have stopped the infection that was threatening to take my whole foot, and so, it is with some measure of relief that I no longer have a walking cast on my foot and am able to take showers again without putting my foot and ankle in a plastic sleeve.

Early in the season, I found three packets of sunflower seeds from years gone by (many years gone by), and in a spirit of hope I planted the seeds in my new flower bed--the one where I also planted some twelve day lilies and now four bearded iris plants. The seeds were so old, I had no real hope of them germinating, but lo, ten did.  They have just now begun to bloom, even though the stalks tower over me and have for several weeks.  As of this morning, ten stalks have grown up from the three packets of seeds, and four are now in full bloom, with color showing on a fifth.  I have no doubt that the remaining five will also burst forth into their glory, if the frost holds off long enough.

Sunflowers, like dandelions, always seem so cheerful to me.  Perhaps it's just that I associate that bright yellow with happiness.  The photo above, showing the first flower to bloom, is deliberately placed on a black background as it represents to me the ultimate triumph over the despair I have felt so strongly this Summer.  This, too, shall pass, as we're told, and I will regain my strength and will to live.


The past few days I've been working on my library, clearing out the boxes from the closet and putting up shelves where I could empty those boxes.  This has also allowed me to continue on with my project of organizing the library, as it is now easier to get to all those books that were still packed away.  I'm also going through boxes of old papers and throwing a lot of stuff away.  Do I really need checking statements from 1998, for instance, especially since I no longer bank with that institution? As the floor clears, my mood rises, and the next step will be cleaning off the horizontal surfaces so that I actually have some work space and clear horizons.  I know this will help improve my attitude, and also make the papers I do keep easier to find if/when needed.

Sunflower on blue
So while the skies outside are grey (from rain clouds finally, instead of the smoke we've had for the last month), I choose to see the sky as blue.  The rain is much needed, and should help to dampen the fires that surround us, as well as washing the smoke from the sky.  For weeks we have not been able to see the mountains across the valley, but now the mountains are back, albeit a bit shrouded with the clouds.  I can deal with clouds.

I haven't written much, practically nothing, all summer long.  I'm down to one county left on my ongoing Glory of the West blog, and that has had me a bit depressed as well, for this is a project that I've dreamt of for thirty-five years.  What do I do when it's finished?  Well, I'm sure something new will come along to engage me.  And Lord knows there's plenty to keep me busy just in keeping up this house.

I wouldn't mind having some company though, if you feel like a trip to Montana's beautiful northwestern corner.  There's plenty of room for you, and it will give me an incentive to cook.
Y'all come!

Monday, July 13, 2015

To the Peak of Sex and Beyond

The Coeur d'Alene Range of the Bitterroot Mountains
View to the West and South from the Sex Peak Lookout
Five foot by two foot Panorama

Sunday morning, Kevin offered me the chance of a lifetime.  He wanted to go to Sex Peak and take me with him.  How could I say no?  Little did I know that there is an actual mountain top in the Coeur d'Alene range named "Sex Peak."  Nor did I know that there was a US Forest Service lookout tower on said peak.  Normally, when Kevin wants to go to a mountain top, it's because he wants to play Ham Radio operator, so I took my Kindle, my camera, and my coffee mug in the truck, and was ready to go.  Kevin brought our diabetic MinPin Harley along for the ride.  We suspect that Harley's healthy siblings treat him poorly when we leave all the dogs alone. Harley is going blind from his diabetic induced cataracts, and tends to bump into furniture, walls, other dogs, etc, which the others do not appreciate.

On the way, we stopped by the home of the owner of the Llano Theatre, the wonderful movie house here in Plains, which Kevin and I visit almost every week.  I was doing some printing for the theater, but was having trouble getting my various software programs to work.  This had caused me no end of frustration both Saturday and Sunday morning, and my blood pressure was rising accordingly.  Long story short, I really needed a day away from the computer.

After dropping off my work, and stopping at the dump to drop off the week's garbage, we continued west on Highway 200 to Thompson Falls.  It was at this point I learned that Kevin really didn't know exactly where Sex Peak is.  Well, that's what modern technology is all about, right?  Just try to ask your vehicle's navigation system to get you to Sex Peak.  I dare you.  That's right, it didn't work for us, either.  Well, our smart phones have internet capability.  Just look it up on line.  What???  I'm not getting a 4G signal?  I was beginning to think that modern technology and I just were not getting along.  Kevin, using his own phone, was able to find a link to show driving directions, but that link refused to open.  When in doubt, ask someone human, preferably face to face.

Having learned that we needed to continue west from Thompson Falls, our new objective was the road that follows Big Beaver Creek.  I'm not making this up.  If you want to get to Sex Peak, you have to go up Big Beaver Creek.  Quite a way up Big Beaver Creek, as it turns out.  Eventually you will reach a junction where Forest Service Road 2222 takes off to the right, and you'll see a sign telling you that the lookout is 12 miles ahead.  Of course, if you don't turn at this junction, you'll see a sign saying that the lookout is 14 miles ahead.  Apparently, once you're way up Big Beaver Creek, all roads lead to Sex Peak.

You didn't think the sign would actually say Sex Peak, did you?
How long do you think that sign would last?

The Lookout is no longer being used by the Forest Service as a fire watch tower, but is available for rental at a rate of $35 a night.  Supposedly it can sleep four people, but they'd have to be awfully friendly, it seems to me.  In any event, if people can rent the tower, it makes sense to me that you should be able to drive your soccer mom van all the way up to the summit.  Road 2222 was not, however, the smoothest road I've ever been on.  Not the worst, either, not even the worst we followed on this trip, but I'll get to that in a minute or two.  We'd been driving quite some time when we came upon the sign shown above.  Oh goody, that meant we had covered eight miles of bad road and had only four more to go.  It's hard for me to imagine most families driving their car up this road.  I'm not sure why, as growing up we drove our cars up mountain roads much worse than this.  But folks today are pretty soft, seems to me.

Eventually, we passed a gate and made the final climb to the lookout.  I've been to several lookouts over the years, and this was by far the easiest to reach by motor vehicle.  There is an outhouse next to the parking area, something I'm not used to seeing at other lookouts, but there is no water any where nearby (remember, we left Big Beaver Creek twelve miles back), so you have to bring all the water you feel you're going to need if you plan on staying overnight.  But the view!  Just look at that panorama at the head of the page.  I stood on the lookout's balcony and took nine individual shots that were merged into that panorama.  Of course, that is the point of a lookout--you're there to watch for any fire that might get started in the forest below.  And if you're into building cairns, there's a lot of rock here to use.  Other ways to spend your time, according to the rental website, include star gazing, wildlife viewing, and even mountain biking.  

Just down the road a ways, we found quite a huckleberry patch, and stopped long enough to pick berries both for immediate eating, and for some baking I'll do later today (or maybe tomorrow).   I have to say that I really don't recommend trying to pick huckleberries when you're wearing a walking cast boot designed to keep your foot and ankle immobile.  I speak from experience.

On the way back down the mountain, we decided to go out the back way (remember the 14 mile sign back on Big Beaver Road?).  This road was much smoother than the way we ascended the mountain, and much more suitable for regular cars.  So much smoother, that it's probably shorter in time even though longer in distance.  At the bottom of the grade we faced a decision:  10 miles to Highway 200 and home, or 6 miles to the State Line.  Well, that was easy.  Head west into Idaho.

One thing we learned on this trip is that the Forest Service isn't marking their roads as well as they used to.  Certainly not as well as they should when intrepid explorers set out to see the sights but have no maps along.  We passed a sign indicating Mile 11 (one mile from where we turned west), and then we passed a fork in the road, taking what appeared to be the better maintained choice, since neither road was marked with any kind of sign.  Well, the right fork did say the road was not maintained for cars or trailers, but we took the left fork, which soon led us to a bridge across, what else, Beaver Creek.

I hope you weren't looking for water in Beaver Creek

Shortly after crossing the bridge, we saw another milepost, 1.  What do you mean, 1?  Shouldn't that be 12?  Then came another milepost, 2.  Then 3, then 4, then a locked gate.  We're not getting to Idaho following this road.  Even if we were able to open the locked gate (and Kevin does have keys to do that in his work with the Ambulance and Fire crews), the road ahead was blocked by a good stand of trees, and we didn't have a chain saw with us.

Turn the truck around, head back toward the bridge, then the fork, and try the "not maintained" road instead.  Boy were they right. This road was barely maintained for a 4x4 pickup.  It climbed pretty steadily through thick brush until after five miles we leveled off and saw a sign stating "State Line."  No "Welcome to Idaho," or "Idaho is Just Too Great to Litter," or even "Pacific Time Zone."  Just "State Line."  Looking behind us, there was a sign saying that it was now 16 miles to Highway 200, but nothing telling us where the road ahead would lead us, or how many miles it would take to find out.

The road downhill was wide and relatively smooth, nothing like the Montana side, and we were doing quite well until we came to a place where the road had washed out.  I wondered if our four-wheel drive would get us over the impasse, but before he tried it, Kevin wisely got out of the cab to reconnoitre.  Having looked the situation over carefully, he decided we could risk the attempt, and while I held my breath (and the truck started sliding toward the abyss), he gunned it up and over and in no time at all we were back on good road. I know objectively it took no time, but as I was on the downhill side/slide, I was holding my breath and it felt as if it took forever.  Later Kevin asked if I had taken any pictures of the slide, but no, as I said, I was holding my breath, not my camera.

Further down the road we stopped at a small stream to get water for Harley.  I'm not happy with any of the photos I took of the stream, but I'm sharing this one anyway.  And a bit further on we came upon a truck with five Forest Service personnel sitting and talking.  We asked if they knew about the slide, and they assured us that someone was coming up the mountain to remedy the situation.  They were a bit amazed that 1) we had driven over it, and 2) that we had no idea where we were or where we were going.  They assured us that we were on the road down the mountain, and we would end up at Elk Creek.  (Should I mention that in a lifetime of driving around western Montana and northern Idaho, I had never heard of Elk Creek?)  A couple of miles further along, we came to another junction, and took the right fork as it seemed better traveled and frankly, in better shape.  Five miles down that road, we reached the bottom of the canyon and, I presume, Elk Creek.  Passing a couple of four-wheelers and a camp site where someone had brought in a large camping trailer, we headed down stream, only to find that it was good we were in a Ford.  We had to ford the creek, twice.  The road became increasingly narrow, and finally dropped into the creek bed itself.  Nope, not going to go there.  Turning around, we found we were now blocking the way of the four-wheelers, who were anxious to get down into that creek bed.  Better them than us.  We stopped at the campsite and spoke with Willie Nelson (well, that's who he looked like) who told us that we needed to go back up the mountain and take the other fork.  Exactly 14.9 miles from his campsite, we would find the Murray-Pritchard Road, better known to us as the Thompson Pass Road.

Back up the mountain, this time taking the left fork, and along the way we passed another Forest Service truck, this time with Fire Suppression markings, a BLM Fire Suppression Truck, three more Forest Service trucks, and a bulldozer slowly making its way up the mountain to repair the slide we'd driven over.  We also drove through a large swath of burned out forest land before we started dropping precipitously off the mountain.  

Almost exactly 15 miles from Willie Nelson, we hit pavement and turned to the left toward Murray.  I've written about Murray before, and her most famous resident Maggie Hall, AKA Molly B Damn.  Murry is an old mining town roughly ten miles into Idaho when you cross Thompson Pass south of Thompson Falls.  A friend had told me that the Sprag Pole Inn served a good meal, so Kevin pulled off the road and we had a great dinner of broasted chicken, french fries, and tossed salad.  After dinner, we continued up and over Thompson Pass and headed home.  With Kevin's scanner, we were able to hear a report of a truck heading toward us and driving erratically, speeding, crossing the double yellow line, passing on blind curves.  Kevin got on the radio and asked what we should be looking for.  The officer replied with a description of the vehicle, and it shouldn't have been hard to find.  He described our truck with one exception.  The miscreant was driving a 2014 red Ford F350 diesel.  We were driving a 2012 red Ford F350 diesel.  I'm pleased to say that we drove all the way home without ever running into our near twin.

The Thompson Pass Road on the Montana Side
What most people think a road through the mountains should look like

It was a long day, at times frustrating, but never boring.  We were doing one of the things I love best--getting out, seeing the sights, exploring roads we've not traveled before.  I kept telling Kevin how much fun I was having, and I know my blood pressure dropped considerably being away from the computer.  We'll do it again, and I'll write it up again.  Only next time we'll have maps, a cooler and lunch along for the ride.